By working to shift the center of application development to the Web, Google isn't only improving its own position, but is also doing Apple, the open-source community, Microsoft and the rest of us a big favor.
There's a new chapter under way in the saga of Google versus Microsoft-one
that comes in the form of two major product announcements that have tech
pundits licking their chops for a clash of the computing titans.
In one corner, we have Google, which announced
to develop a second Linux-based operating system to complement its Android
smartphone platform. This new project, called Chrome OS, will consist of
layered atop a Linux kernel and will rely on the Web as its
application development platform.
In the other corner, we have Microsoft, the undisputed market champion of
the desktop operating system and keeper of the fat-client flame. It recently
released a Technical Preview build of Office
, the latest iteration of its venerable productivity suite.
The fact that Google is pushing the envelope on Web applications isn't
particularly provocative; the Web is, after all, Google's stock in trade.
What's turning heads, however, is the apparent shot across Microsoft's bow that
a bare-metal operating system from Google seems to represent.
I don't believe that Google expects Chrome OS to dethrone Microsoft's
Windows any more than Google expects Chrome the Web browser to knock off
Firefox and Internet Explorer. Rather, I believe that Chrome OS is exactly what
Google says it is-an effort to shift application development away from any
particular OS or hardware platform toward the platform of the Web.
Google is fiddling with client applications and OSes not because it intends
to dominate those areas, but because if it didn't do the work, no one else would.
Take Apple, the company for which it's important enough to bind software to
specific, Apple-branded hardware that the company bars generic x86 machines
from running OS X and enforces an exclusive link between iTunes
and the iPhone
. The Web dissolves the link between applications and any
specific sort of hardware, and, as a result, Apple would never be the company
to lead us Web-ward.
Red Hat, Canonical and the many other commercial and noncommercial
organizations that drive Linux and open source can't be counted on to lead
application development to the Web, either, because most Web applications are not
(although most are built out of open-source
and hosted on open-source systems).
As for Microsoft, the Web presents the Redmond
giant with an innovator's dilemma. Microsoft makes the bulk of its money on a
suite of fat applications (Office) running on a fat platform (Windows). Microsoft
is so dominant in this thick-client world that it probably doesn't make sense
for Microsoft to take the lead in moving us to a Web-centric world.
We didn't need Google to tell us that without any offline support option,
Web applications would remain crippled when compared with traditional desktop
alternatives. And yet, no one made an offline solution available until Google shipped
. We didn't need Google to tell us that multiple Web applications
running under a single browser session must enjoy the same
level of isolation
as multiple applications running under a single OS, and
yet, no one built this functionality into a browser until Google did with
Frankly, by working to shift the center of application development to the
Web, Google isn't only improving its own position-which it is-but Google is
also doing Apple, the open-source community, Microsoft and the rest of us a big
favor. In fact, I expect that the biggest beneficiary of whatever Web-as-a-platform
progress Google makes will be Microsoft. After all, If Google succeeds in
moving more of us to a Web-application-first computing model, whose
applications do you suppose most of us will be running?
The most promising parts of Office 2010 are the strikingly rich Web versions
of Microsoft's Office applications, which will run equally well on Microsoft
Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and Apple Safari (a close cousin to Google's
Chrome). Similarly, with Exchange
, Microsoft is erasing IE's edge over other browsers and platforms for
Outlook Web Access.
What's more, unlike
the Web applications from Google and Zoho, Microsoft's Office Web applications
will be available in both on-premises and hosted versions, and the hosted
versions will be available from multiple providers.
Of course, shifting the center of application development gravity to the Web
will pay dividends for Google, as well, but it won't place Google in a position
of dominance. Rather, a shift to the open platform of the Web will enable
Google to take a seat at a desktop computing table previously
for a party of one.
Executive Editor Jason Brooks
can be reached at email@example.com.